At some point (especially if you’re a frequent reader of this site), you’ve probably heard a food referred to as anti-inflammatory. If you couldn’t guess by the name, for something to be considered as such it must fight or “oppose” inflammation.
Maybe you don’t think you have to worry about inflammation, but you could be wrong. According to studies , it’s one of the leading causes of chronic health conditions. People can have it for years before debilitating problems arise. If you’ve dealt with bloating for no reason or joint problems with no apparent cause, inflammation could be at the center of your issues.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection and injury. Whether we bang our knee or are deadlifting a new weight, our immune system responds the same. Damaged tissue releases cytokines, a chemical which triggers hormones, nutrients, and white blood cells to repair the injured area. The throbbing pain you may feel after an intense workout session is an indicator that all of this is taking place.
The process is relatively short and necessary. However, if it goes on too long, problems arise. Some things, such as chronic stress, can make the body believe its hurt when it’s not, causing inflammation to kick in.
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With nothing to repair or fight the body begins to attack itself. Chronic inflammation has been connected to joint pain and arthritis, heart disease, premature aging, auto-immune disease, digestive problems, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer.
Inflammation and Diet
Doctors don’t really know why some experience inflammation more than others, but lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption, stress and smoking can be a precursor to the health issues listed above. Also, certain dietary habits have been shown to cause an inflammatory response.
Processed meats, sugar, dairy, refined carbohydrates and cooking with oils like corn are inflammation producers.
While you may think you’re not eating that type of stuff, it’s easy for these items to slip onto your plate. Even a veggie burger with cheese (processed, dairy) on squashy bun (refined, simple carbohydrate) with a side of sweet potato fries and ketchup (oil and sugar) can have its consequences if routinely made part of your diet.
Adopting an anti-inflammatory eating plan may be the best (and easiest) way to stop inflammation in its tracks. It involves building meals around foods proven to promote healing by bringing the body into a balanced state of health so it doesn’t overproduce the stress hormones that signal to the system that it’s under attack.
What Does An Anti-Inflammatory Diet Look Like
Believe it or not, an anti-inflammatory diet isn’t about committing yourself to a life of boring chicken breast and asparagus. In fact, this type of eating style is one of the more inclusive meal plans around.
Unlike low carb diets, fruits and starches like sweet potato are not off limits. Actually, they’re strongly encouraged. An anti-inflammatory diet is not about counting calories or macros, but about loading up on real, unprocessed foods that are high in nutrients. Think color, like leafy greens, berries, avocados, brown rice, quinoa, beans, nuts and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, sardines, and flaxseed.
The reason why the diet centers around whole foods are because they’ve been proven to be the most beneficial to health. Fruits and vegetables in particular are loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals which fight and repair cells-including those damaged by inflammation. They’re also full of the vitamins and minerals that keep the immune systems strong enough to efficiently fight stress.
And you don’t even have to give up sweets. Cacao and cocoa (dark chocolate) are encouraged on this diet, which means you literally can have your cake and eat it too-provided that it’s made with whole, anti-inflammation ingredients. Including spices, like turmeric, with anti-inflammatory properties can also be an easy way to start incorporating elements of the diet into your routine.
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Benefits of An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Still think there’s no reason to consider enjoying more anti-inflammatory foods? Check out the other benefits of adopting the diet.
Better for Digestive System
Most foods included in an anti-inflammatory diet are high in fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Items like greens, beans, grains, and mushrooms not only help push waste through the digestive track but provide food to the good gut bacteria. You want them to remain healthy and thriving, so that they can help you break down and fully utilize nutrients.
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With the diet focusing more on plant-based protein you’ll save a bundle when you go grocery shopping. Meat and dairy tend to be some of the most expensive items in the store. Eating vegetarian is not only good for your health but economically smarter. In spite of the purveying myth that it’s more costly to eat healthy, according to a study posted in Science Direct, vegetarians tend to spend less on food then their carnivore counterparts.
One of the reasons eating fresh food can be pricier than convenient items is becomes we’re paying for the packaging materials. An easy and affordable way around this is to do all the washing and chopping yourself.
While you may find it a hassle, buying fruits and vegetables that are not cut and washed will not only be more cost effective, but better for the planet. Less packaging equals less plastic.
Green Living Made Easier
Once again, this perk comes down to the impact of eating less animal products. As established in an article published by CNN, a plant-based diet has been recently shown to have more positive environmental implications than a traditional western diet. The meat and dairy industry are responsible for 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse emissions . At the risk of being a complete downer, if there’s a single reason to trade in steak for tempeh, that’s it.
It's More Intuitive
Most of us hate diets because they require giving up foods we love. But with an anti-inflammatory diet, it’s less about deprivation and more about filling up on healthier fare.
Unlike other diets where you’ll throw yourself out of a special zone by eating in the wrong timeframe or not sticking to the “right” foods, an anti-inflammatory is more flexible. You can eat what and when you want, provided most of your meals are comprised of whole or “real” food instead of the processed stuff.
Less Cravings for Junk
Don’t be surprised if your sweet tooth is less sharp after making the switch to more natural foods.
Because processed items are often refined and have less nutritional substance, they can illicit an overeating response. In contrast, items like fibrous grains and satiating nuts are naturally filling and won’t trigger the chemicals in your brain that tell you to keep eating.
More Exciting Meals
Some of the world’s most flavorful cuisines have anti-inflammatory elements, such as Mediterranean, Indian, and Japanese. By moving away from traditional western meals (peace out pizza and subs) you’ll probably be more likely to try culinary delights you never considered before.
You May Lose Weight
While dropping the pounds may not be your goal, don’t be surprised if you weigh less on an anti-inflammatory diet. Whole foods tend to have less calories than their processed counterparts. You can also eat more of them. And since the diet can help realign your gut health, you might find yourself less prone to cravings which could result in weight loss.
You can thank all the omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants for this one. They both play a crucial role in your skin’s health. Along with helping to ward off signs of premature aging, foods with these properties have been shown to boost cell turnover, skin buoyancy and blood flow circulation .
A Sample Anti-Inflammatory Meal Plan
A bowl of oatmeal with crushed walnuts, blueberries, bananas mixed with a pinch of cinnamon.
An apple with natural almond butter
Kale salad with carrots, sprouts, pumpkin seeds, edamame, a can of mackerel, and half a sweet potato
Bell pepper strips and celery with hummus (with turmeric powder mixed in), along with a pinch of pink Himalayan salt and pepper.
Nourish Bowl made of quinoa, baby spinach, cauliflower, tomato, shredded purple cabbage, a salmon fillet, and avocado
Cacao Milkshake made with nut milk, a frozen banana, a scoop of RYZE: Mushroom Keto Coffee, cacao nibs, and ice.